“Are you f*cking kidding me, Wendler?!!”
This statement was when I knew I had appeared on the radar of Dick Tomey. I had just whiffed a block on a power play and deserved, and received, the criticism from Tomey. As a walk-on, the vast majority of coaches did not know who you were, let alone the head coach. And I can’t blame them; giving it the “ol’ college try” doesn’t matter in college football. You have to produce results.
It’s been over 20 years since I had last played football. The first 15 of these years flew by; life moved forward fast and I never really had a chance to look back and appreciate that time of my life. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized how lucky I was to have Dick Tomey as a head coach.
For those of you unfamiliar with college football, you spend thousands of hours with teammates, position coaches and strength coaches. The head coach moves pieces around, delegates duties and is ultimately responsible for everything. But generally speaking, the average player doesn’t spend a lot of time with the head coach.
However, the head coach is the one that sets the standard, the expectations and the overall mentality of the team. Tomey wanted to win. But it was never sacrificed for giving great effort, finishing strong and being a good person. Yes, he wasn’t perfect but I hear stories from other players, from other schools, and it’s not pretty. For them, winning was the only thing; no matter how it was done. And it may look good to the fans, alumni and the administration. But winning at all cost has it’s cost – mostly at a detriment to the values and character that head coaches love to give lip service to.
I didn’t spend a lot of time with Tomey but I did have the chance to have dinner with him at his house; he invited me to spend some time with him and his wife, who was a writer. He knew I was an English major/Creative Writing minor and thought she could give me some advice. And let’s be honest, every English major needs career advice.
Before I left football, I thanked Tomey for giving me a chance and a scholarship. But this was done as an ignorant 22 year old kid. Tomey passed away two years ago and I never got to thank him as an older, wiser man. Someone who had the experience of time to know that he was much more than a football coach. The best I can do is continue coaching and helping young men learn that effort, discipline, resolve and character are more important than the scoreboard.